Bishops urge Milosevic to resign now

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The Independent Online
FOR THE second time in two months, the Serbian Orthodox Church has urged President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to resign, saying only his departure could prevent his country and its people "being taken hostage" and led into "certain disaster".

The appeal, released yesterday, followed a conference in Belgrade of Orthodox bishops, including several known Milosevic supporters. For that reason, almost certainly, the document stopped short of committing the Church's leader, Patriarch Pavle, to taking part in a mass anti-government rally scheduled for 19 August.

But the statement backed demands from opposition leaders for the installation of a transitional government of non-party technocrats to organise early elections. Mr Milosevic and the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, should both step down, it said. Their policy over Kosovo had led the country into a dead-end, and other figures should now take over to extract Yugoslavia from its "tragic state".

The absence of the Patriarch from the rally would be a setback for opposition leaders, threatening to turn the expression of all-pervading national discontent they had planned into a purely political occasion, much easier for the regime to neutralise. None the less, Zoran Djindjic of the opposition Democratic Party described the church statement as "very positive."

The government is unlikely to see it that way. The old alliance between church and state, founded upon Serb nationalism, is in tatters, and only this week the government paper Borba accused what it sneeringly referred to as "God's messengers" of playing Nato's game - spreading "futile stories of some kind of reconciliation with the world," and "taking the side of those who bombed our country ruthlessly for nearly three months".

As opposition rumbled against the Milosevic regime at home, Nato officials in Brussels announced that a German army general, Klaus Reinhardt, will be the likely successor to Lt-Gen Mike Jackson of Britain as head of the international peace-keeping force in Kosovo. Lt-Gen Jackson is due to step down in October.